Before I begin, I would like to join with The Tech, Austin Brinson, and Alec Lai in welcoming the residential life area directors (RLADs) to campus, and emphasize that my grievances and concerns are with the process and other actors, not with the people who have been hired for the RLAD position.
I am writing to state that Brinson and Lai do not speak for all of campus, and to express my frustration that they feel the need to denigrate other students for respectfully expressing valid concerns with the RLAD implementation process and role. They took a lot of students’ criticisms about the RLAD implementation, selection process, and role, and put them together into a general pool of complaints against the RLAD selection process. While they acknowledge that they “cannot speak for all the involved dorms,” they fail to mention that their experience is partly colored by the fact that their housemaster, Chris Colombo, is the Dean of Student Life, one of the people pushing for these changes.
I would like to start by addressing the points that Brinson and Lai raised.
There was insufficient student involvement … in the implementation of the RLAD position in the first place
Brinson and Lai focus on the selection process of each dorm’s RLAD, not on the creation of the RLAD position in the first place. Indeed, it seems that the selection process has some student involvement. However, the fact that the position itself was created behind closed doors by a group of administrators — without input from students, housemasters, or graduate resident tutors (GRTs) — gives credence to the claim that there was insufficient campus involvement. Furthermore, the selection process represents a major break from historical practice in selecting residential staff (e.g., GRTs, housemasters, and even RLAs), for which selection committees are dorm-specific (c.f. to a campuswide committee, as was utilized for RLADs).
The process was too quick
Indeed, the most logical time to implement this new position would be at the beginning of a semester. The main concern here is that students, housemasters, and GRTs clearly wanted the “tedious” process of committees and public forums. With such a radical change to residential life, it is entirely reasonable to wait longer in order to gain campuswide input. In addition, one could safely assume that these administrators had this idea well before the summer — so why did they not seek student, GRT, or housemaster input last year?
The RLAD position description is too vague … and was too vague.
I mainly heard this complaint when the letter from Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 to housemasters was first leaked to the students. Although we now have a relatively detailed document, this was not finalized, or widely distributed to students, by the time last-round interviews of RLADs had begun.
Even after the responsibilities came out (see: http://studentlife.mit.edu/sites/default/files/AD%20Job%20Description_0.pdf), some specific items remain worrisome. For instance, Section B Item 8 states: “Follow-up with all residents who experience medical, psychological, or personal issues, as noted in Dean-on-Call reports. Residential Life Area Director is to provide a daily update (as needed) to the Housemasters and GRT team in addition to the Director for Residential Life Programs.” Now I wonder, how wide is the circle of people who have access to personal information of a medical or psychological nature that students generally expect to be private?
RLADs take supervision of GRTs away from the housemasters
This complaint was often heard at the beginning of this process, and was in direct response to the leaked letter from Grimson to the housemasters, which stated “the RLADs will assume a supervisory role for GRTs.” (see: http://imgur.com/a/oCW7k) That, in response to house team and student pushback, this responsibility has been revised does not mean the complaint was not valid several months ago.
The RLAD position was implemented without a pilot
Yes, certain dorms had live-in RLAs, but their roles and responsibilities were radically different from those of the RLADs. Plus, in the old system of RLAs, some dorms had the option of not having a live-in RLA. Although Brinson and Lai are correct that not every dorm has gotten an RLAD at the beginning of the year, it is extremely unclear (and disconcerting) whether those without an RLAD will get one in the future. As Brinson and Lai point out, Grimson did give these dorms without an RLAD the chance “to collect residents’ opinions,” but they themselves admit that this is simply an “option to defer” the implementation of the RLAD, not an option to not have an RLAD, nor an option to change any of their roles or responsibilities.
Further, if the RLAD position is some sort of evolution of the old RLA model, I wonder why there did not seem to be any evaluation of the RLA system. Every dorm had an RLA assigned to it, but no dorm was contacted by the administration as to how the RLA was working for them.
The RLADs declined interviews with The Tech
I have never heard anyone express this complaint. I think the RLADs are being reasonable when they deny an interview at this early juncture in their position.
The implementation has created more suspicion than support
The fractured trust between the administration and students is damaging the MIT community in innumerable ways. The administrators who are supposed to be leaders in our support system have earned reputations among some that harm their ability to provide that very support. In addition, MIT’s values are at risk. On the one hand, we are being told that we are being trained to be the leaders and thinkers of tomorrow, but on the other we are told that we cannot be trusted to give even basic insight on a system that has supposedly been designed to help us, and that our opinions are not of value. We are told that we are the ones who will help solve the problems of the world, but it seems we cannot be trusted enough to help solve the problems of MIT.
This whole RLAD scandal shows that student engagement by the administration has regressed, even after students have made well-articulated arguments for improvement in this arena for years. (see: http://web.mit.edu/fnl/volume/233/modi.html)
I find it ironic that Brinson and Lai state that “[all] parties should work together to customize a new support system for the residents” when the administrators should have done this in the first place. I do not think that any dorm is perfect. But if Grimson, Brinson, and Lai want to see “improve[d] trust” and a more “collaborative spirit,” then they need to work on them. Given what I have discussed above, and what others have discussed on this very issue, how can students trust these administrators in working with us on improving residential life? Where was the “collaborative spirit” when the RLAD position was being constructed and debated in the first place?